It’s all about how you use it

I have to admit that I have a strange relationship with money. I’m not going to sit here and try to tell anyone — or even myself — that I don’t like having money. If my boss was to stop by my desk tomorrow and ask me if I’d like a raise, I’m not going to say no. After all, I like being able to spend money on various things.

However, I don’t feel like a slave to money, either. I do understand that ultimately, the only money I really need is the money to buy the necessities for staying alive. Anything after that is gravy. And I love my gravy.

However, I’ve also realized that how I spend my excess money is extremely important to me. I’m not the kind to become obsessed with buying the latest gadget or must have thing. Nor am I obssessed with keeping up with the latest fashion (not that men’s fashions change nearly as drastically as women’s fashions, anyway). That’s not my style at all.

Granted, I like to shop for quality when I do buy things. So when I go out shopping for new work clothes, I’m as liable to hit something a bit more expensive than Wal-Mart or even Target. (Besids, those stores often stop carrying clothes at one size below what I need, or only carry clothes my size that are horribly tacky.) And when I bought a laptop a couple months ago, I spent the extra money to get one I’d really like.

But at the same time, I don’t care to buy a lot of “stuff” just to have “stuff.” For example, a couple of years ago, I began to re-evaluate my attitude towards computer games. At the time, I was buying a new computer game every other week. I’d play each game I bought for about two weeks (often never mastering them or beating them if they had a quest mode of play), then get bored with it and never touched it again. As I noticed this pattern, I really asked if the time I spent playing each game was really worth the $40 a title I was paying. I decided that it wasn’t, so I’ve changed my game buying habits. I still buy the occasional computer game (and still often play them for a couple of weeks), but it’s something I only do every couple months or so. I found it hasn’t detracted from my life at all, and I’ve certainly found more enjoyable uses for the money I’m saving.

On the other hand, I think one of the best spenditures of money I’ve ever made was back when my niece, Alyssa, was two years old. Disney had re-released “The Little Mermaid” just before Christmas, so there was a merchandizing craze going on at the time. During my Christmas shopping, I had found a four foot long stuffed Flounder (the character from the movie, not a real flounder). I decided to buy it for Alyssa for Christmas.

Christmas Eve, my sister and her family had dinner with my parents and I at my parents’ home (I was living at home at the time). My sister decided to let Alyssa open one gift that evening after dinner. Because of an incident that had happened when my sister and her family were heading up from New Jersey, we all agreed she should unwrap Flounder.

I cannot begin to do justice to the experience of watching Alyssa open her gift. When she finally got the wrapping paper off and looked into the eyes of a Flounder almost as big as she was, she let out a shrill screech. The next five minutes, all this little girl could do was hug her new friend tight and screech, “He’s so cute!” It was a beautiful sight, and I can’t think of a time where I got so much joy out of $40 I had spent.

In many ways, money is more about making my life comfortable. It’s about creating moments like that, where I get to add to and share in other people’s pleasure. Whether I’m buying presents for my nieces and nephews, treating my friends to a meal, or giving an overworked and underpaid server an outrageously generous tip, I enjoy seeing the smiles it can bring to people’s faces.

Money can’t buy happiness, but it can certainly be used to create situations that encourage happiness.

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